MYSTICISM: Vision Seven—The Devil, by Hildegard of Bingen

Vision Seven—The Devil Hildegard of Bingen

Then I saw a burning light, as large and as high as a mountain, divided at its summit as if into many tongues.  And there stood in the presence of this light a multitude of white-clad people, before whom what seemed like a screen of translucent crystal had been placed, reaching form their breasts to their feet.  And before that multitude, as if in a road, there lay on its back a monster shaped like a worm, wondrously large and long, which aroused an indescribable sense of horror and rage.  On its left stood a kind of market-place, which displayed human wealth and worldly delights and various sorts of merchandise; and some people were running through it very fast and not buying anything, while others were walking slowly and stopping both to sell and to buy.  Now that worm was black and bristly, covered with ulcers and pustules, and it was divided into five sections from the head down through the belly to its feet, like stripes.  One was green, one white, one red, one yellow, and one black; and they were full of deadly poison.  But its head had been so crushed that the left side of its jawbone was dislocated.  Its eyes were bloody on the surface and burning within; its ears were round and bristly; its nose and mouth were those of a viper, its hands human, its feet a viper’s feet, and its tail short and horrible.  And around its neck a chain was riveted, which also bound its hands and feet; and this chain was firmly fastened to a rock in the abyss, confining it so that it could not move about as its wicked will desired.  Many flames came forth from its mouth, dividing into four parts: One part ascended to the clouds, another breathed forth among secular people, another among spiritual people, and the last descended into the abyss.

And the flame that sought the clouds was opposing the people who wanted to get to Heaven.  And I saw three groups of these.  One was close to the clouds, one in the middle space between the clouds and the Earth, and one moved along near the Earth; and all were shouting repeatedly, “Let us get to Heaven!”  But they were whirled hither and thither by that flame; some did not waver, some barely kept their balance, and some fell to the Earth but then rose again and started toward Heaven.  The flame that breathed forth among secular people burned some of them so that they were hideously blackened, and others it transfixed so that it could move them anywhere it wanted.  Some escaped from the flame and moved toward those who sought Heaven, reiterating shouts of “O you faithful, give us help!”  But others remained transfixed.  Meanwhile, the flame that breathed forth among spiritual people concealed them in obscurity; but I saw them in six categories.  For some of them were cruelly injured by the flame’s fury; but when it could not injure one of them, it burningly breathed on them the deadly poison that flowed from the worm’s head to its feet, either green or white or red or yellow or black.  But the flame that sought the abyss contained in itself diverse torments for those who had worshiped Satan in place of God, not washed by the font of baptism or knowing the light of truth and faith.

And I saw sharp arrows whistling loudly from its mouth, and black smoke exhaling from its breast, and a burning fluid boiling up from its loins, and a hot whirlwind blowing from its navel, and the uncleanness of frogs issuing from its bowels; all of which affected human beings with grave disquiet.  And the hideous and foul-smelling vapor that came out of it infected many people with its own perversity.  But behold, a great multitude of people came, shining brightly; they forcefully trod the worm underfoot and severely tormented it, but could not be injured by its flames or its poison.

And I heard again the voice from Heaven, saying to me:

ONE:  God strengthens the faithful so that the Devil cannot conquer them

God, who disposes all things justly and rightly, calls his faithful people to the glory of the celestial inheritance; but the ancient deceiver lurks in ambush and tries to hinder them by using all his wicked arts against them.  But he is conquered by them and is confounded as his presumption deserves, for they possess the celestial country, and he suffers the horrors of hell.

Therefore, you see a burning light, as large and as high as a mountain, divided as its summit as if into many tongues.  This is the justice of God, which burns inthe faith of believers, displaying the greatness of his power, sanctity, and glory, and wonderfully declaring in that glory the diverse gifts of the Holy Spirit.

TWO: The multitude of the faithful and the divine law displayed before them

And there stand in the presence of this light a multitude of white-clad people, a cohort of people in the presence of God’s justice, shining with faith and well and honorably constituted in good works.  Before them what seems like a screen of translucent crystal has been placed, reaching from their breasts to their feet; for, from their decision to do good actions to their completion, they have before their eyes the strong and splendid sight of the divine law.  And thus they are so strengthened in these actions that no cunning or deception of false persuasion can conquer them.

THREE: The deceptions of the Devil lie in the path humans take in this world

And before that multitude, as if in a road, there lies on its back a monster shaped like a worm, wondrously large and long.  This means that the ancient serpent is well-known to humanity in the course of the pilgrimage of the good and the bad through the world, not in that visible form but in its inner meaning.  Its mouth is gaping upward in order to pull down by deception those who are tending toward the celestial regions; but it is lying down, because the Son of God destroyed so much of its strength that it cannot stand up.  And it arouses an indescribable sense of horror and rage; for the mental capacity of mortal humans is insufficient to understand the manifold variations of its poisonous fury and malicious exertions.

FOUR: The Devil offers fraudulent riches and delights, and some buy them

On its left stands a kind of marketplace, which displays human wealth and worldly delights and various sorts of merchandise.  For the left hand of the destroyer signifies death, and there is seen a marketplace composed of Death’s evil works: pride and vainglory in corruptible riches, licentiousness and lust for transitory pleasures, and trafficking in all kinds of Earthly desires.  Thus those who would be terrified by the horror of the Devil if they met it openly are deceived by these things; they are lightly offered persuasions to vice as a merchant displays his diverse wares to people, and delighted by the display so that they buy what is offered.  So the Devil offers humanity his lying arts; and those who desire them buy them.  How?  They throw away a good conscience as if selling it, and they collect deadly wounds in their souls as if buying them.

FIVE: The strong resist the Devil’s offers, the apathetic consent to them

And some people are running through it very fast and not buying anything; they know God, and so they carry the treasure of good will and the sweet spices of virtue and eagerly accumulate more of them, and quickly pass by the pleasures of the world and the filth of the Devil, obeying God’s commands and despising the sweetness of their flesh.  But others are walking slowly and stopping both to sell and to buy; they are slow to do good works and apathetic of heart, and so they smother their own desire for Heaven as if selling it, and nurture the pleasures of their flesh as if buying them.

Therefore, the former will receive the reward of good works, and the latter will suffer the punishment of iniquity, as Ezekiel shows, saying:

SIX: Words of Ezekiel on this subject

“The justice of the just shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him.” (Ezekiel 18:20)  What does this mean?  The shining works of the pure person bathe him in sanctity and surround him like a thousand eyes that see into the heights and the depths; as the Holy Spirit inspires him, they bear him aloft to great honor and leave his wrong desires behind for dead, as a bird is borne aloft in the air by its wings whenever if pleases.  But the person who faithlessly follows the wickedness of the savage viper who hisses at Heaven, covering the pearl with mud and raging at the Most Beautiful among all the beautiful, is degraded by its snakelike poison; he is cut off from the noble work of God’s hands, from all honor and from the beatitude of the celestial vision, and exiled from the Living Fruit and the root of the Just Tree.

SEVEN: The Devil labors to deceive the five sense of humanity

But you see that that worm is black and bristly, covered with ulcers and pustules.  This shows that the ancient serpent is full of the darkness of black betrayal, and the bristles of concealed deception, and the ulcers of impure pollution, and the pustules of repressed fury.  And it is divided into five sections from the head down through the belly to its feet, like stripes; for from the time of his first deception when he tried to put himself forward until the final time when his madness will end, he does not cease to inspire the five human senses with the desire for vices.  Simulating a deceitful rectitude, he draws people to the downward slopes of his unclean arts.  One is green, one white, one red, one yellow, and one black; and they are full of deadly poison.  The green indicates worldly melancholy; the white, improper irreverence; the red deceptive glory; the yellow, biting envy; and the black, shameful deceit, with all other perversities that bring death to the souls of those who consent to them.

EIGHT: The Devil’s pride was overthrown by the Incarnation

But its head has been so crushed that the left side of its jawbone is dislocated.  This means that his pride was so overthrown by the Son of God that even the enmity of Death is already destroyed and cannot exert its full strength of bitterness.

NINE: What the eyes and ears and nostrils of the serpent signify

Its eyes are bloody on the surface and burning within; because his wicked intent outwardly inflicts harm on human bodies and inwardly drives a fiery dart into their souls.  Its ears are round and bristly; for the bristles of his arts pierce a person all around, so that if he finds anything that is his in that person, he may quickly thrown him down.  Its nose and mouth are those of a viper; for he shows people unbridled and vile behavior, through which, transfixing them with many vices, he may cruelly slay them.

TEN: Its hands and feet and tail and what they signify

Its hands are human, for he practices his arts in human deeds; its feet a viper’s feet, because he ceaselessly ambushes people when they are journeying and inflicts devilish lacerations on them; and its tail short and horrible, for it signifies his power in the short but most evil time of the son of perdition, whose desire to run wild exceeds his power to do it.

ELEVEN: The might of God has broken the Devil’s strength to do what he wants

And around its neck a chain is riveted, which also binds its hands and feet; which is to say that the strength of the Devil was so broken and crushed by the power of Almighty God that he cannot freely work his evil and accost humans in the way.  And this chain is firmly fastened to a rock in the abyss, confining it so that it cannot move about as its wicked will desires; for the power of God abides unfailingly and immovably for eternity, and by saving souls oppresses the Devil so forcibly that he is not able by inner or outer means to take away redemption from the faithful, or keep them from that place of joy from which he perversely exiled himself.

TWELVE: The Devil sends his fire to lead astray all kinds of people on Earth

Many flames come forth from its mouth, dividing into four parts.  This means that in his rapacious voracity he sends forth in cruel flames the terrible and manifold evil of his wicked counsels; he breathes it into all four corners of the world, that the people there may follow him.

One part ascends to the clouds; for the sharpness of the Devil’s breath drags down those who with all their mind’s longing seek Heaven.  Another breathes forth among secular people; for its many forms deceive those who live among Earthly affairs.  And another among spiritual people; for its pretense infects those who labor in spiritual disciplines.  And the last descends into the abyss; for its persuasions put the faithless who consent to it into the torments of hell.  For they have walked the way of falsity and deception and left the way of rectitude, and they have not shown the reverence due to the true God, as David testifies, saying:

THIRTEEN: Words of David

“Destruction and unhappiness in their ways, and the way of peace they have not known; there is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Psalm 13:5)  What does this mean?

People who expel God from their hearts by their wicked and damnable deeds are overwhelmed by his innocent and mighty works, which arise in the pure living Fountain, as a great rain submerges an object so that it is no longer visible.  And so they are not formidable in the sight of God, for misery is in their ways wherever they go, and most unhappy companionship, and the food of death.  How?  They taste and eat what is evil.  Hence in their deeds they do not know the way that ascends in the sunlight, and do not taste in honor or in love the sweetness of God; they cast away their fear of him as if it were fear of another person, desiring neither to see him nor to look him in the face.

FOURTEEN: The Devil assails spiritual and secular people in many ways

Hence you also see that the flame that seeks the clouds is opposing the people who want to get to Heaven.  For when that wicked flame feels that the minds of the faithful are tending upward, it rages against them most cruelly with its arts, so that they may not come to the celestial places to which they aspire.

FIFTEEN: The three groups of these people

 And you see three groups of these; for they do not cease to worship the true and ineffable Trinity, although greatly fatigued by their struggles.  One is close to the clouds; these are fighting most strongly against the Devil and raising their thoughts from Earthly deeds to Heavenly things as a cloud floats above the Earth.  And one is in the middle space between the clouds and the Earth.  These people control themselves moderately well, but their whole mind is not set on Heavenly things nor their whole desire on Earthly ones; they take a middle way, seeking inner qualities but not refusing outer ones.  And one moves along near the Earth; for these people have not perfectly renounced the transitory but cling a little to passing things, and so have great labor and suffer much fatigue.  But, with the help of Heaven, they are all victors; for all are shouting repeatedly, “Let us get to Heaven!”  And so the former and the latter people, with sighs of desire, exhort themselves to move toward the secret places of Heaven, even though tired out by the arts of the ancient serpent.  But they are whirled hither and thither by that flame, being driven to various actions by the wind of the Devil’s temptation.  Some do not waver, for they are exceedingly strong fighters and manfully defend themselves from these illusions.  Some barely keep their balance, for they keep their feet in the path of rectitude and persevere in God’s commandments, but are worn out by their labors and can scarcely conquer the Devil’s arts; and some fall to the Earth but then rise again and start toward Heaven, for they fall into different ways of vice but are then raised up by penitence and place their hope in God and good works.

SIXTEEN: The temptations of secular people

Now the flame that breathes forth among secular people burns some of them so that they are hideously blackened.  This is to say that the flame of evil deception aims itself at those who pursue worldly affairs and subjects some of them to its perversity; it stains them with dark and iniquitous vices, so that they despise the brightness of the true faith.  Thus they slay themselves by a bitter death, and fall to the ground and there do evil deeds.  And others it transfixes so that it can move them anywhere it wants; for it dominates them by its wickedness and bends them to all the vices of its own depravity, seducing them into the embrace of worldly pleasure, so that according to their desires they have different ways in their speech, hair, clothing, gait, and other such things.  Therefore, they become confused and neglect the justice of God, breaking the law and failing to circumcise their minds; they seek excess in lust and do not observe the times of the law God constituted for them.  And as the sea is stirred into turbulence by the wind, they are stirred into diverse vices by the breath of the ancient dragon  Some of these escape from the flame and move toward those who seek Heaven, reiterating shouts of “O you faithful, give us help!”  For they withdraw themselves from shameful and harmful companionship and imitate those who fix their mind on celestial things, desiring with heart and voice their solicitude and help.  But others remain transfixed, continuing to be ensnared in evil actions by their various vices.

SEVENTEEN: The six ways of temptation of the spiritual

But the flame that breathes forth among spiritual people conceals them in obscurity.  This means that the breath of the Devil’s persuasion, when it flames toward those who should be assenting totally to the Spirit, beclouds them with the perversity of its vices, so that they long for the flesh more than for the Spirit.

And you see them in six categories; for the ancient enemy strives to pervert both their five exterior senses and the sixth inner one, the devotion of the heart.  Some of them are cruelly injured by the flame’s fury; for the Devil unlooses his arts on them and inspires them with carnal desires and pleasures, and so enkindles them to lust and unclean pollution.  But when it cannot injure one of them, it burningly breathes on them the deadly poison that flows from the worm’s head to its feet, either green or white or red or yellow or black.  How?  When they refuse the delights of pollution, he pours into them the sprouting green of mundane sadness, so oppressing them that they have no strength for spiritual or worldly matters; or he sends against them the empty whiteness of vicious irreverence, so that they do not hide their shame before God or Man; or he displays to them the bright red of Earthly glory, giving them bitterness and anxiety of heart; or he puts into them the dull yellow of contempt for their neighbor, and thus they become whisperers and hypocrites; or he imposes on them the horrid blackness of feigned justice, through which their hearts are wretchedly darkened.

All these are deadly plagues; they have proceeded from the destroyer from the beginning of his time of deception, and will do so until the end of time, when his madness will end in the world.  And through them he injures and burns people up with vices.

EIGHTEEN: Concerning the unbaptized

But the flame that seeks the abyss contains in itself diverse torments for those who have worshiped Satan in place of God, not washed by the font of baptism or knowing the light of truth and faith.  This is to say that the fire that accompanies perdition inflicts dire and bitter torments on those souls who were not washed clean in the font of salvation and did not see the brightness of the celestial inheritance or the faith instituted by the church, and who continue to venerate the lurker in ambush who tries to kill human souls, rather than the One who granted humanity life and salvation.

NINETEEN: What is meant by his mouth’s arrows, breast’s smoke and loins’ fluid

And you see sharp arrows whistling loudly from its mouth; these are the terrible and evil thrusts of the Devil’s rage, which issue forth in madness and iniquity; and black smoke exhaling from its breast, which is the outpouring of his malicious impulses of hideous wrath and envy; and a burning fluid boiling up from its loins, which is the effusion of his uncleanness in ardent lust.

TWENTY: What is meant by his navel’s whirlwind and bowels’ uncleanness of frogs

And a hot whirlwind is blowing from its navel, which is the suffocating wind of fornication that proceeds from his voracity to dominate; and the uncleanness of frogs issuing from its bowels, which is the fetid excrement of his obduracy in desperation and his perverse concentration on it.  For the ancient waylayer hopes to subjugate those who follow him completely to his will.  And all of these things affect human beings with grave disquiet; for such perversities bring those who fix their hope in the Earthly and not the Heavenly, and so most miserably become involved with them, into extreme ruin.

TWENTY-ONE: The Devil makes the foolish believe what he falsely shows them

And the hideous and foul-smelling vapor that comes out of it infects many people with its own perversity.  This means that the black wrong of a fetid conscience proceeds from the Devil and disturbs the foolish with wicked unbelief.  How?

From the time of the beheading of John the Baptist, who declared that the Son of God is the One who heals the wounds of sin, most evil error arose, whereby the Devil seduces different people by different false images; sot hat they think that what he shows them, each according to his understanding, is true.  And many are deceived thus, because their faith is constantly weak and wavering.

But you, O My Children, if you wish to live justly and devoutly, fly from this most wicked error, lest death catch you in your unbelief.

TWENTY-TWO: Heretics who worship the Devil for God must be avoided and

And fly from those who linger in caves and are cloistered supporters of the Devil.  Woe to them, woe to them who remain thus!  They are the Devil’s very viscera, and the advance guard of the son of perdition.

Therefore, O you my beloved children, avoid them with all devotion and with all the strength of your souls and bodies.  For the ancient serpent feeds and clothes them by his arts, and they worship him as God and trust in his false deceptions.  They are wicked murderers, killing those who join them in simplicity before they can turn back from their error; and they are wicked fornicators upon themselves, destroying their semen in an act of murder and offering it to the Devil.  And they also invade my church with their schisms in the fullness of vice; in their shameful plots they wickedly scoff at baptism, and the sacrament of my son’s body and blood, and the other institutions of the church.  Because they are afraid of my people, they do not openly resist these institutions of mine, but in their hearts and their deeds they hold them as nothing.  By devilish illusion, they pretend to have sanctity; but they are deceived by the Devil, for if he were to show himself to them openly they would understand him and flee him.  By his arts he shows them things he pretends are good and holy, and thus deludes them.  O woe to those who persevere in this death!

But because the Devil knows he has only a short time for his error, he is now hastening to perfect infidelity in his members: you, you evil deceivers, who labor to subvert the Catholic faith.  You are wavering and soft, and thus cannot avoid the poisonous arrows of human corruption, which you employ as you wish against the law.  And after you pour out your lust in the poisonous seed of fornication, you pretend to pray and falsely assume an air of sanctity, which is more unworthy in my eyes than the stinking mire.

And thus for certain the punishment of all the schisms shall fall upon you: The one that arose in Horeb when the Jewish people made a graven image and played before it is devilish mockery, as some wantonly do to this very day; and the one about Baal, in which many perished; and the one about fornications, where the Midianites did shameful deeds; and all the others.  For you have part in all of them by your evil actions; but you are worse than the earlier people, because you perceive the true law of God but stubbornly abandon it.

But, O you who desire to be saved and have received baptism and form the holy mountain of God, resist Satan, and do not descend form the height of your salvation.

TWENTY-THREE: God’s grace forsakes his despisers but mercifully helps his seekers

The Devil ceaselessly sets his snares against a person who is so hard-hearted as to despise God’s help in resisting him; for then he sees a blackness of iniquity rising up in that person, bringing such bitterness into his whole body that its strength dries up.  Hence, when a person begins to contemplate his evil and so crushes himself in despair, deeming it impossible for him to avoid evil and do good, the Devil sees this and says, “Behold a person who is like us, denying his God and turning to follow us.  Let us hasten and run swiftly to him, urging him by our arts so that he cannot escape us.  For to leave God and follow us is what he wants.”

But a person who is assailed by these evils through the Devil’s agency, and polluted by murder, adultery, voracity, drunkenness and excess of all vices, will fall into death if he continues in them impenitent; while one who resists the Devil and withdraws repenting form these vices will rise again to life.  For if a person follows the longing of his flesh and neglects the good desires of his spirit, the Maker of this globe says to him, “He despises me and sinfully loves his flesh, and rejects the knowledge that he should turn away from perdition.  And therefore he must be cast out.”  But if a person loves the virtuous ardor of his spirit and rejects the pleasure of his flesh, the Creator of the world says of him, “He looks toward me and does not nourish his body on filth, and desires the knowledge of how to avoid death.  And therefore help will be given him.”  How?  As Solomon says, in accordance with my will:

TWENTY-FOUR: Words of Solomon

“Evil pursues sinners; and to the just good shall be repaid.” (Proverbs 13:21)  What does this mean?  Those who fall into error and slide into ruin are invaded on all sides by deadly sickness; and so they do not wisely regard what is true, but carelessly abandon it.  And, because they reject God and choose the Devil, they are not worthy to look at God or take any pleasure in God or other people, and the evil they do brings them much adversity.  But in good people, right sense and just thoughts erect a tall building; they receive in their bosom the inheritance of the Father, for they long for the celestial light.  For they are not among the deceivers in the derisive marketplace, where this or that is sold without regard for its value, but in God they possess that which is true.

TWENTY-FIVE: True worshipers of God crush the ancient serpent

But you see that a great multitude of people come, shining brightly; they forcefully tread the worm underfoot and severely torment it.  This is to say that those who are born into human misery, but who constitute the faithful army of believers, hasten to attain their desire for Heaven by the faith of baptism and blessed virtues, which are beautiful adornments; and by their deeds they cast down the ancient seducer.  They are virgins, martyrs, and all other kinds of worshipers of God, who in full knowledge tread worldly things underfoot and desire the Heavenly; and they surround the Devil and crush him with force, weakening him with dire suffering.  But they cannot be injured by its flames or its poison; for they are protected by God with such strength and constancy that neither the open flame not the hidden persuasion of the Devil’s wickedness can touch them.  For they forsake all vain fictions, and with great strength in virtue hold fast to sanctity.

But let the one who sees with watchful eyes and hears with attentive ears welcome with a kiss.  My mystical words, which proceed from me who am life.


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